Dungeon Master Tips House Rules

If there’s one thing to be said about role-playing games, whether you’re discussing Dungeons & Dragons or another title, it’s that rules abound. They need to, out of pure necessity: there are few ways to run a tight, restricted, well-formed game without them.

Do all rules make sense? Some do. Most do, in fact, with the occasional weird exception. But sometimes the rules can clash with one another, or the players will decide that they need tweaking, or the dungeon master will want to enhance the difficulty – or perhaps ease it. What’s to be done in these cases?

Two words: house rules. A decision by the DM to subtly alter certain elements of an RPG, house rules will, regardless of the game, change the experience of the RPG. Sometimes this is for good, sometimes it’s for ill, sometimes it’s just different.

Should DMs implement house rules? If they feel it necessary, then absolutely. It’s their world. Rules can and should be changed to suit their playing environment, particularly if those rules will make the players happy. For example, if the DM is running a particularly dangerous campaign, or is running with less players than normal, they may grant the PCs some concessions when rolling dice. Or extra starting equipment. Or more generous damage rolls. House rules should be used when they make sense.

That said, house rules can be tricky. They may prove divisive, and ultimately problematic for a campaign. Consequently, you should take the following to heart before you institute any house rules.

– First, test out the rule by yourself. Try a sample combat to see if the rule drastically unbalances what happens. If not, great. If so, then your rule might need some tweaking.

– Second, try one or two other players on the new rule. What you might fail to see, they may discover in moments.

– Third, if you choose to institute the house rule, make it plain immediately. Let all other players know at the beginning of a campaign, if possible, that the house rule is in effect. Don’t spring it on them in the midst of combat.

– Fourth, if any new players wander into the party at any point, explain the house rule to them as well. Keep a list of your various house rules so you can remember what’s different.

– Fifth, give players some room to comment on the house rule. Allow for some debate. So long as the change isn’t drastic and makes sense within the context of your campaign, most players will be fine with your house rules. You make the final call, but allowing your players to act as a parliament will increase their satisfaction with the new rule.

– Sixth, try not to institute house rules that are too unbalanced. Changing the dice rolling rules for stats is fine. Changing how much experience a party gets, to the point that they’re artificially inflated for a certain point? Quite another. You also want to avoid any rules that will give one person or another a particular edge above everybody else, which may be construed as favoritism.

– And, seventh, before you bring the house rule into effect, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. If not, then, why bother?

House rules should typically be used to clarify points of contention and better balance an RPG. Used within this context, house rules will seldom go wrong – and if they do prove problematic, your players will be sure to tell you.